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Imbros Island Greek Orthodox Chapels Get a New Kiss of Life

Imbros Greek Chapels
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew visited his birthplace, the island of Imbros, this week. Credit: Facebook/Ecumenical Patriarchate

The Greek Orthodox chapels on Imbros, in today’s Turkey, that were left demolished and desecrated are gradually being restored.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew opened a renovated chapel at Imbros, the Aegean island where Greeks lived for centuries, earlier this week.

The old chapel of St. Tryphon is located in the village of Schinoudi whose residents until the last century had been almost exclusively Greek.

There once were 300 Greek Orthodox chapels on Imbros

“For us Imbrians, every renovation of a chapel is a source of gratitude to the God of love,” the Ecumenical Patriarch, who was born on Imbros, said in his speech, adding:

“Our small homeland had about three hundred chapels, located in the mountains, on the slopes, on the plains, and on our beaches. Few of them escaped the catastrophe caused by the relentless “Dissolution Plan” of 1964. Most were demolished, desecrated, turned into stables, disappeared from the face of the earth. Few survived, mainly those near or inside the settlements.”

Bartholomew was referring to the Turkish “Eritme Program” or “Dissolution Program” (the Turkish word “eritme” means dissolution, assimilation) whose main goal was the de-Hellenization of the two previously Greek islands of Imbros (Gökçeada in Turkish) and Tenedos (Bozcaada in Turkish.)

The Patriarch noted that in the last two decades, several dilapidated chapels have been renovated and rebuilt at Imbros.

He also referred to the life of St. Tryphon, who is especially honored by the Imbrians, as for centuries their main professions, as he said, were “agriculture and stock raising.”

Imbros, Tenedos had been Greek since ancient times

The two Aegean islands were Greek since ancient times, as Imbros belonged to the Athenian Alliance; there was a temple of Apollo on Tenedos.

However, after the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the two Aegean islands were claimed by the Ottomans and the Venetians, mainly because of their strategic position, both being very close to the entrance of the Dardanelles Strait, called “Hellespont” (Ελλήσποντος) from ancient times, that leads to the Sea of Marmara.

At the time of World War I, on Imbros there were 8,000 Greeks and on Tenedos near 3,000. Until 1920 the islands belonged to the Ottoman Empire. After Turkey and Germany lost the war, the 1920 Treaty of Sevres saw the two islands granted to Greece, an event that was greeted with enthusiasm by their inhabitants.

However, the joy lasted only two years. After the Asia Minor campaign catastrophe and the defeat of the Greek Army, the Treaty of Lausanne granted the islands to Turkey.

The inhabitants of the islands were exempted from the compulsory exchange of populations, however, with the Treaty providing for the autonomy and protection of Greek residents and minorities in general.

Unfortunately, the agreement was violated by the Turkish side. As early as 1927, most of the buildings of the island were demolished, as a massive colonization of people from the Turkish hinterlands went into effect. The population of the islands was gradually altered, and properties belonging to Greeks were expropriated.

In 1955, Turkish fanaticism was at its peak, leading to the persecution of Greeks living in Turkish territories. The living conditions for Greeks in Turkey had been very difficult for some time by that point.

On July 1, 1964, in an effort to further alter the populations of Imbros and Tenedos, the Turks banned the teaching of the Greek language in schools. This was the same time that a large number of Greeks living in Constantinople were expelled.

Many Greeks refused to leave the islands

In 1924, the schools of the two islands were all Greek, while in the year of the ban on Imbros there were seven Greek schools with 693 Greek pupils. On Tenedos the number was far lower.

Many Greeks fled the two islands. Others refused to leave their homes. Yet many Greeks withstood the onslaught, with the mother tongue still being spoken on the two islands.

Today, on Imbros there are more than 800 Greek people. On Tenedos they do not exceed 30. In 2013, 39 years after the abolition of the Greek language, the Turkish state approved the operation of a minority school on Imbros.

Two years later, a Greek high school was established.

The Aghios Theodoros Greek school is located in the village of Zeytinli the birthplace of  Bartholomew, which was once home to a large Greek community.

The school, opened in 1951, was closed down in 1964 and only started admitting students again in 2013. Only two students enrolled that year.

However, by 2018 47 students were attending the. They are children of Greek families who have been returning in recent years to the island.

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